Changes Keep Things Lively

May 2, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill

Special to TelevisionWeek

During the 57-year history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, one would be hard-pressed to find two years in which the categories, presentation and rules were the same. The Emmys have been consistently tweaked and altered to fit the changes in television.

And this year a change that some would call radical is under way.

Come the CBS telecast Sept. 18, none of the categories honoring writers or directors will include acceptance speeches. Such speeches will be replaced by short sequences taped before the event and featuring behind-the-scenes peeks at the creative process involved in writing a winning script or directing a winning show.

How these sequences actually will be presented won’t be determined until an executive producer of the telecast is named, but the change to the traditional presentation is firm. It is also firm that the snippets will not be taped acceptance speeches by every nominee, which had been speculated.

“The purpose of these changes is to make the show better, more entertaining,” said Todd Leavitt, president and chief operating officer of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which administers the Primetime Emmys.

“Every award show is facing a balancing act,” Mr. Leavitt said. “The audience wants to be entertained, and by making this change we will be freeing up 20 to 25 minutes from the three-hour telecast for other entertaining possibilities. At the same time, we respect the work of the writers and directors, and we have obligations to put their categories on the telecast.”

Since last year, Mr. Leavitt said, ATAS has spent $100,000 on both “qualitative research and focus groups” to discover what the audience wants to see on the show. What the academy found was that the audience does not know the writers and directors, he said, and “is not interested in hearing them thank their families and agents. But they would be interested in finding out more about the creative process and how it happens.”

The academy is contractually bound to telecast the writing and directing awards by the terms of the agreements among the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and the networks that rotate airing the show. In return, the WGA and DGA forego any claims for residuals or royalties on clips that are aired.

An original idea offered by the ATAS board of governors in late March suggested that variety show as well as movie and miniseries writing and directing categories be shifted to the Creative Arts banquet Sept. 11, which is not televised. This sparked an instant uproar from the WGA and DGA.

Mr. Leavitt said that after discussions with the two guilds, “the directors came up with the suggestion that we’ve all agreed to.”

Immediately after the announcement of the plan in early April, both WGA West President Daniel Petrie Jr. and DGA President Michael Apted issued statements in support of the changes. Since then, neither has been available for interview on the subject.

CBS executives declined comment on the pending changes. A network spokesman said it was “too early to comment” in light of the fact that final details of the changes had yet to be announced by the show’s production team. The network will pay about $7 million for the Emmys telecast this year (TelevisionWeek, Aug. 16, 2004).

It is a telecast that, like most other televised award shows, has suffered ratings declines in recent years. According to Nielsen’s NTI service, overall household ratings for the telecast last year on ABC dipped to 9.4 or 13.8 million viewers. In 2003 on Fox it nabbed an 11.8 rating and 18 million viewers.

Adding to the woes, Nielsen Monitor Plus reported that the cost per 30-second spot has also dipped. In 2004 the benchmark ad cost was $441,900 per spot. In 2003 it was $520,000 per spot.

This may explain why the changes have support from Madison Avenue, according to a top agency executive who asked not to be identified.

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming, Katz Media TV, agreed. “The goal of the show has to be offering entertainment that celebrates achievement,” Mr. Carroll said. “The reality is people want to see the stars; they don’t want to see the others-however talented they are-thanking people they never heard of.

“If that sounds cold, I’m sorry, but I’m in the column of people who think there needs to be changes on awards shows, and I am glad the television academy faced up to this,” he said.

The new presentation of the writing and directing categories has overshadowed other changes ATAS is considering making to the telecast, most notably the reintroduction of the best new series category, which once was an Emmy staple but has not been bestowed in 25 years.

There is also the possibility, still unresolved at press time, that the outstanding reality series category will be moved to the telecast, as was the outstanding reality series-competition category last year.

Just the Facts

The 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Administered by: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences

Why: To recognize excellence in prime-time television

Voting process: The academy’s 12,000 members cast ballots in their areas of expertise

Date of ceremony: Sept. 18

Where: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles

Telecast network: CBS

Key Dates for Primetime Emmys of Television Arts & Sciences Web site:

Week of June 6

Nominating ballots are mailed and posted on the academy’s Web site (www.emmys.tv)

June 22

Postmark deadline for returning the nominating ballots to Ernst & Young

July 14

Nominations are announced from the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood, Calif., 5:35 a.m. (PT)

Week of Aug. 1

At-home judging tapes for Creative Arts Awards categories are mailed

Week of Aug. 8

At-home judging tapes for Telecast Awards categories are mailed

Aug. 24

Postmark deadline for returning at-home judging ballots for Creative Arts Awards categories to Ernst & Young

Aug. 31

Postmark deadline for returning at-home judging ballots for Telecast Awards categories to Ernst & Young

Sept. 11

Creative Arts, Engineering and Interactive Television Awards and banquet at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles

Sept. 18

CBS telecast and Governors Ball at Shrine Auditorium